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38 Special: Facebook bankers got it right

May 18, 2012: 4:13 PM ET

Facebook shares stay flat, and that's okay.

FORTUNE -- Facebook (FB) shares didn't pop. They didn't crumble. They closed the day at $38.23 per share, or less than a percentage point higher than where the company's IPO had priced last night.

The typical media narrative, of course, is catastrophic. Conventional wisdom had been that Facebook would close the day up around $50 per share, or at least in the low $40's. Not because people actually thought Facebook was undervalued at around $107 billion, but because everyone thinks IPO buyers deserve an extra 10% or 15% reward on the first day of trading. As if getting access to shares in the world's hottest Internet company is the investor equivalent of being a server at Chili's.

But there is no catastrophe here. In fact, Facebook bankers like Morgan Stanley (MS), J.P. Morgan (JPM) and Goldman Sachs (GS) might have priced the company just about perfectly.

Facebook paid its IPO underwriters to do one job, and one job only: Generate the most money possible through the initial public offering of Facebook stock. It did not pay them to offer 10-15% discounts so that Morgan Stanley or Goldman Sachs could ingratiate themselves to high-net-worth clients. That may be how it usually works in practice, but that doesn't make it right. Imagine if you found out your real estate broker had priced your home for $50,000 below market value because she thought it would generate more interactions with buyers for her other properties?

Last year, LinkedIn (LNKD) bankers -- including some of the same firms -- took some heat when the company's shares closed their first day of trading up more than 80%. It was deserved.

Now there obviously are some shades of gray here, as Facebook's bankers worked furiously to prevent the price from falling below $38 in the market's final moments -- an event that would have embarrassed both the bankers and their client. But the reality is that Facebook got as much money today as the market was ready to give. If it continues to generate strong margins, then its price will rise and today's buyers will be ultimately rewarded. If its recent growth slowdown becomes a trend, then it could go the other way.

But an IPO is a single-day event, for the primary purpose of generating issuer cash. And Facebook's bankers got it right, even if it was the last thing anyone expected.

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About This Author
Dan Primack
Dan Primack
Senior Editor, Fortune

Dan Primack joined Fortune.com in September 2010 to cover deals and dealmakers, from Wall Street to Sand Hill Road. Previously, Dan was an editor-at-large with Thomson Reuters, where he launched both peHUB.com and the peHUB Wire email service. In a past journalistic life, Dan ran a community paper in Roxbury, Massachusetts. He currently lives just outside of Boston.

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